Page images
PDF
EPUB

the civilisation of the Augustan age could have been succeeded in Italy by such barbarity. The Italians were so ignorant, that they forgot their family names; and before the eleventh century individuals were known only by their Christian names. They had an indistinct idea, in the middle ages, of the existence of the antipodes; but it was a reminiscence of ancient knowledge. Dante has indicated the number and position of the stars composing the polar constellation of the Austral hemisphere. At the same time he tells us, that when Lucifer was hurled from the celestial regions, the arch-devil transfixed the globe; half his body remained on our side of the centre of the earth, and half on the other side. The shock given to the earth by his fall drove a great portion of the waters of the ocean to the southern hemisphere, and only one high mountain remained uncovered, upon which Dante places his purgatory. As the fall of Lucifer happened before the creation of Adam, it is evident that Dante did not admit that the southern hemisphere had ever been inhabited; but, about thirty years afterwards, Petrarch, who was better versed in the ancient writers, ventured to hint that the sun shone upon mortals who were unknown to us.

'Nella stagion che il ciel rapido inchina
Vers' occidente, e che il dì nostro vola
A gente che di là forse l'aspetta.'

"In the course of half a century after Petrarch, another step was gained. The existence of the antipodes was fully demonstrated. Pulci raises a devil to announce the fact; but it had been taught to him by his fellowcitizen Paolo Toscanelli, an excellent astronomer and mathematician, who wrote in his old age to Christopher Columbus, exhorting him to undertake his expedition. "A few stanzas have been translated by Mr. Merivale, with some slight variations, which do not wrong the original. They may be considered as a specimen of Pulci's poetry, when he writes with imagination and feeling. Orlando bids farewell to his dying horse.

'His faithful steed, that long had served him well
In peace and war, now closed his languid eye,
Kneel'd at his feet, and seem'd to say "Farewell!
I've brought thee to the destined port, and die."
Orlando felt anew his sorrows swell
When he beheld his Brigliadoro lie

Stretch'd on the field, that crystal fount beside,
Stiffen'd his limbs, and cold his warlike pride:

And, "O my much-loved steed, my generous friend,
Companion of my better years!" he said;

"And have I lived to see so sad an end

Of all thy toils, and thy brave spirit filed?

O pardon me, if e'er I did offend

With hasty wrong that mild and faithful head!".

Just then, his eyes a momentary light

Flash'd quick; -then closed again in endless night."

"When Orlando is expiring on the field of battle, an angel descends to him, and promises that Alda his wife shall join him in paradise.

'Bright with eternal youth and fadeless bloom,

Thine Aldabella thou shalt behold once more,

Partaker of a bliss beyond the tomb

With her whom Sinai's holy hills adore,

Crown'd with fresh flowers, whose colour and perfume
Surpass what Spring's rich bosom ever bore-
Thy mourning widow here she will remain,
And be in Heaven thy joyful spouse again.'

"Whilst the soul of Orlando was soaring to heaven, a soft and plaintive strain was heard, and angelic voices joined in celestial harmony. They sang the psalm, ' When Israel went out of Egypt;' and the singers were known to be angels from the trembling of their wings.

'Poi sì sentì con un suon dolce e fioco

Certa armonia con sì soavi accenti

Che ben parea d' angelici stromenti.

*

[blocks in formation]

"In exitu Israel, cantar, de Ægypto, Sentito fu dagli angeli solenne

Che si conobbe al tremolar le penne.'

"Dante has inserted passages from the Vulgate in his Divina Commedia ; and Petrarch, the most religious of poets, quotes Scripture even when he is courting. Yet they were not accused of impiety. Neither did Pulci incur the danger of a posthumous excommunication until after the Reformation, when Pius V. (a Dominican, who was turned into a saint by a subsequent pope) promoted the welfare of holy mother church by burning a few wicked books, and hanging a few troublesome authors. The notion that Pulci was in the odour of heresy influenced the opinion of Milton, who only speaks of the Morgante as a 'sportful romance.' Milton was anxious to prove that Catholic writers had ridiculed popish divines, and that the Bible had been subjected to private judgment, notwithstanding the popes had prohibited the reading of it. His ardour did not allow him to stop and examine whether this prohibition might not be posterior to the death of Pulci. Milton had studied Pulci to advantage. The knowledge which he ascribes to his devils, their despairing repentance, the lofty sentiments which he bestows upon some of them, and, above all, the principle that, notwithstanding their crime and its punishment, they retain the grandeur and perfection of angelic nature, are all to be found in the Morgante as well as in Paradise Lost. Ariosto and Tasso have imitated other passages. When great poets borrow from their inferiors in genius, they turn their acquisitions to such advantage that it is difficult to detect their thefts, and still more difficult to blame them.

"The poem is filled with kings, knights, giants, and devils. There are many battles and many duels. Wars rise out of wars, and empires are conquered in a day. Pulci treats us with plenty of magic and enchantment. His love adventures are not peculiarly interesting; and, with the exception of four or five leading personages, his characters are of no moment. The

fable turns wholly upon the hatred which Ganellon, the felon knight of Maganza, bears towards Orlando and the rest of the Christian Paladins. Charlemagne is easily practised upon by Ganellon, his prime confidant and man of business. So he treats Orlando and his friends in the most scurvy manner imaginable, and sends them out to hard service in the wars against France. Ganellon is despatched to Spain to treat with King Marsilius, being also instructed to obtain the cession of a kingdom for Orlando; but he concerts a treacherous device with the Spaniards, and Orlando is killed at the battle of Roncesvalles. The intrigues of Ganellon, his spite, his patience, his obstinacy, his dissimulation, his affected humility, and his inexhaustible powers of intrigue, are admirably depicted: and his character constitutes the chief and finest feature in the poem. Charlemagne is a worthy monarch, but easily gulled. Orlando is a real hero, chaste and disinterested, and who fights in good earnest for the propagation of the faith. He baptizes the giant Morgante, who afterwards serves him like a faithful squire. There is another giant, whose name is Margutte. Morgante falls in with Margutte; and they become sworn brothers. Mar. gutte is a very infidel giant, ready to confess his failings, and full of drollery. He sets all a-laughing, readers, giants, devils, and heroes; and he finishes his career by laughing till he bursts."

The reader is referred to Vol. IV. p. 283. 287. antè, for Lord Byron's letters written when he was engaged on his version of the Morgante. Great part of them is occupied with anxious endeavours to ascertain whether usbergo means a helmet or a cuirass; a point on which the slightest knowledge of German would have been sufficient to make him easy. Usbergo is only another form of our own hauberk, and both are manifest corruptions of the German halsberg, i. e. covering of the neck. — E.]

ADVERTISEMENT.

THE Morgante Maggiore, of the first canto of which this translation is offered, divides with the Orlando Innamorato the honour of having formed and suggested the style and story of Ariosto. The great defects of Boiardo were his treating too seriously the narratives of chivalry, and his harsh style. Ariosto, in his continuation, by a judicious mixture of the gaiety of Pulci, has avoided the one; and Berni, in his reformation of Boiardo's poem, has corrected the other. Pulci may be considered as the precursor and model of Berni altogether, as he has partly been to Ariosto, however inferior to both his copyists. He is no less the founder of a new style of poetry very lately sprung up in England. I allude to that of the ingenious Whistlecraft. The serious poems on Roncesvalles in the same language, and more particularly the excellent one of Mr. Merivale, are to be traced to the same source. It has never yet been decided entirely whether Pulci's intention was or was not to deride the religion which is one of his favourite topics. It appears to me, that such an intention would have been no less hazardous to the poet than to the priest, particularly in that age

and country; and the permission to publish the poem, and its reception among the classics of Italy, prove that it neither was nor is so interpreted. That he intended to ridicule the monastic life, and suffered his imagination to play with the simple dulness of his converted giant, seems evident enough; but surely it were as unjust to accuse him of irreligion on this account, as to denounce Fielding for his Parson Adams, Barnabas, Thwackum, Supple, and the Ordinary in Jonathan Wild, or Scott, for the exquisite use of his Covenanters in the "Tales of my Landlord."

[ocr errors]

In the following translation I have used the liberty. of the original with the proper names; as Pulci uses Gan, Ganellon, or Ganellone; Carlo, Carlomagno, or Carlomano; Rondel, or Rondello, &c. as it suits his convenience; so has the translator. In other respects the version is faithful to the best of the translator's ability in combining his interpretation of the one language with the not very easy task of reducing it to the same versification in the other. The reader, on comparing it with the original, is requested to remember that the antiquated language of Pulci, however pure, is not easy to the generality of Italians themselves, from its great mixture of Tuscan proverbs; and he may therefore be more indulgent to the present attempt. How far the translator has succeeded, and whether or no he shall continue the work, are questions which the public will decide. He was induced to make the experiment partly by his love for, and partial intercourse with, the Italian language, of which it is so easy to acquire a slight

« PreviousContinue »